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Practical support

Equipment and alarms for carers

As a carer, you may be able to access all sorts of equipment for yourself and the person you're looking after. This page provides information on the types of support available.

Equipment and facilities are available that can help with care and independence (see Aids and equipment, below). You can gain access to this equipment by arranging a community care assessment for the person you're looking after, or an assessment under the Children Act if the person you're looking after is a child.

There are many ways that your home or the home of the person you care for can be changed to allow them to remain there and to help you continue caring for them.

Wheelchairs and scooters

If the person you look after has long-term or permanent problems with mobility, they may want to consider using a wheelchair or scooter.

There is a large variety of wheelchairs and scooters available. The choice will depend on the individual's needs, so expert independent advice is essential. Some of the things to consider when choosing the right equipment are:

  • The physical ability of the person using the equipment. If they're unable to stand up, for example, a scooter may be difficult. Their stability and balance may also affect what they can use.
  • How the equipment will be used. For example, are there stairs or narrow doorways to negotiate?
  • Practical considerations, such as access to a power point if the equipment needs to be charged up, or having a secure place to store the equipment when it's not in use.

What the NHS can provide

The NHS may be able to provide a wheelchair free of charge. The NHS will assess the person you look after so that they can choose the right one (there are different types available). The assessment is done at a wheelchair assessment centre or clinic. For more information about this, see NHS wheelchair services.

Some wheelchairs are "manual", which means the wheelchair user has to push themselves or have someone who can push them. Some are electrically powered and these may be provided for someone who can't push themselves and doesn't have anyone to push them, or if it would be difficult to do so.

Motability scheme

The Motability scheme may be of use to someone who wants to hire or buy a powered wheelchair. Unlike the NHS, the scheme also makes scooters available. It is available to people who receive the high rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance or the War Pensioners' Mobility Supplement. These benefits can be used to pay for the hire or hire purchase of a wheelchair or scooter.

Rica

Rica is an independent consumer research charity for older and disabled people. Its website has unbiased information on mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs, as well as information on accessible transport.

Renting or buying equipment privately

You can rent or buy equipment from some commercial companies, but it's important for the person you look after to take independent advice to ensure that they get the right advice and make the best choice.

Wheelchairs for children

There are charities that can give advice on mobility equipment for children, as well as training to use the equipment. In some cases, they can help with funding. For information on what these charities can do, see External links.

Shopmobility schemes

Some towns or shopping centres have a shopmobility scheme, where a person with mobility problems can borrow a wheelchair (manual or powered) or scooter to go shopping.

Wheelchair choice

There are three different types of wheelchair:

  • self-propelled – controlled by the user
  • attendant-propelled – steered by someone else
  • electric-powered – class 2 for pavement use and class 3 for pavement and road use

Before choosing a chair, think about what you need it for. For example, is it:

  • for permanent or short-term use
  • for indoor or outdoor use
  • easy to get in and out of a car boot
  • for the user to manage alone or with someone always there to help

There are pros and cons to each type of wheelchair, so the choice depends on what you need. For example, electric wheelchairs are good for outdoor use, but they can be heavy and awkward to transport.

Manual wheelchairs come as either standard or active-user type. A standard wheelchair can't be modified, but an active-user wheelchair can be adjusted and adapted to suit the needs of the user. Active-user wheelchairs are usually more expensive.

The design of the chair also affects how it can be used. Look out for:

  • large rear wheels, which make wheelchairs easier to manoeuvre
  • wheels positioned further forward on an adjustable axle, which require less effort to move the chair 
  • lightweight chairs that fold or can be dismantled easily if the wheelchair has to be lifted and transported regularly
  • seat size, angle and style, as well as the position of the foot, back and arm rests – these should all be taken into account when considering the comfort of the chair

If the person you care for needs an attendant-propelled wheelchair, it's important to consider your needs too if you're going to be taking them out a lot. For example, can you move it easily, lift it and put it in the boot of the car?

Before deciding on a specific style of wheelchair, it's a good idea to try it out around the house or on the local roads. There are 40 disabled living centres around the country. They have a wide range of equipment on display and can give advice on the different styles of wheelchairs available.

Wheelchairs for children

Disabled children's wheelchair needs are different from those of adults. They need smaller chairs that can be adapted as they grow. If you're a parent carer and your child has been assessed as needing a wheelchair, you may want to contact a charity such as Whizz Kidz or Go Kids Go, who provide wheelchair skills training for disabled young people.

Aids and equipment

Different types of equipment can help you care for the person you're looking after and help them live independently. A social worker or occupational therapist can make decisions about the equipment that would be most helpful for the person you're looking after. These decisions are made as part of the carer's assessment and may also reveal a need for equipment.

Equipment might include items such as:

  • two-handled cups, tap turners and kettle tippers for the kitchen
  • grab rails and raised toilet seats in the bathroom
  • bed raisers and hoists in the bedroom

Free equipment

If an assessment has concluded that you need this equipment, it will be provided free of charge. Minor adaptations costing £1,000 or less which includes the cost of buying and fitting the adaptation  are also provided free of charge. Councils can make a charge for minor adaptations that cost more than £1,000 to provide.

Larger, more expensive items may be classed as adaptations and will be the responsibility of the housing department and provided through Disabled Facilities Grants.

Equipment for employment

If you need equipment for work, the Access to Work scheme may be able to provide funding. Contact the disability employment adviser at your local Jobcentre Plus for advice and assistance. You can find your local Jobcentre Plus on GOV.UK.

Buying equipment

The person you're looking after may choose to buy their own equipment rather than use the equipment provided by the local authority. If they are going to buy their own equipment, it is still a good idea to have an assessment by a social worker or an occupational therapist. They can provide guidance on which equipment is most suitable and advise you on what's available.

Sources of advice

Rica is an independent consumer research charity that produces independent information for disabled and older consumers. All reports are based on independent research carried out by Rica. This includes user trials, technical tests, survey work and desk research.

Help is also available from the Disabled Living Foundation (DLF), a national charity that provides free, impartial advice about all types of home adaptation and mobility products for disabled adults and children, older people, their carers and families.

Equipment loans

If you're looking after someone on a temporary basis, you might want to borrow equipment. Your local Red Cross can often lend you wheelchairs and other equipment for short periods.

Alarms

Personal alarms can be very useful as they often enable the person you're looking after to remain at home rather than go into a residential care home. Many social services departments view alarms as daily living equipment and provide them free of charge after assessment by an occupational therapist, or for a small weekly fee.

If you are going to buy an alarm yourself, you need to consider which of the many options you want to choose. Some alarms will alert a carer or neighbour. These include:

  • portable alarms – these are battery-powered or use pressurised gas and can be bought from high street shops, through mail order or online. They are worn by the person you're looking after and make a high-pitched sound when triggered, which can be heard from a limited distance.
  • fixed position alarms – these have a fixed transmitter and receiver and are operated by a pull cord or similar trigger, which sends a high-pitched sound to alert anyone within a limited distance. Some systems can be designed to release door locks automatically if activated to allow a neighbour to enter the home when the alarm is triggered.
  • portable alarms with a fixed-position receiver – these are worn around the neck or wrist and the alarm can be triggered by the person wearing them. An alarm is sounded from a receiver mounted on a wall or other fixed position to alert someone within earshot.
  • portable transmitters and portable receivers – both you and the person you are looking after wear the device around your neck or wrist. This makes it easier for you to be aware of when the alarm is triggered. It is suitable for a limited range, such as when either of you is in the house or the garden.

You may want an alarm that can monitor the person you are looking after if you're in another room of the house. There are several options, including:

  • one-way intercom – this is a portable system similar to a baby monitor that allows sounds or speech to be transmitted one-way only.
  • fall alarms – this is a portable device that is activated when the person wearing it falls to a 20 degree angle or more and lies without moving for eight seconds. A signal is sent to a portable pager or an autodial alarm telephone is activated.
  • movement monitors – these are mainly used at night and can alert you to epileptic seizures by detecting movement or monitoring vital signs. An alarm is triggered if the sensors notice something is wrong.
  • wandering alarms – used largely to alert you when a person strays, this alarm is activated by pressure sensors located in a bedside mat or doorway or when someone gets out of bed. Some alarms are worn and trigger a warning alarm if the person goes through a door fitted with an antenna.
  • a hypothermia alarm – this is used to monitor the ambient temperature. The alarm is triggered if the temperature falls below a designated level.

Other alarms include:

  • autodialler systems, which send voice or text messages without needing a phone,
  • two-way intercom systems,
  • gas detectors, and
  • smoke or fire detectors.

If you can, it's a good idea to see a demonstration of the alarms available before you make a decision.

Telecare

You may not live with the person you're looking after, or may need to be away from them for long periods of time. As a result, you may worry that there will be nobody nearby when the person you are looking after needs help. A telecare system can help reduce the worry.

Telecare systems are individually designed for the person you look after and their home. The system is made up of a network of sensors that are fitted all around the home. The sensors are linked through a telephone line to a call centre.

The sensors monitor the activity in the home, such as movement and room temperature, and will react if something unusual happens. For example, if there was a change in the person's blood pressure, a signal would be sent to the call centre through a telephone link and someone would take action.

Depending upon what is needed, the telecare system can also include prompts to remind the person you are looking after to take their medication, for example. Some systems can turn off the electricity or gas mains in the home if they detect danger.

How to obtain a telecare system

  • Contact your social services department. If the person you're looking after is assessed as needing a telecare system, social services will pay for it.
  • Contact your NHS trust. The NHS may pay for a telecare system as part of a continuing healthcare or intermediate care package.
  • Pay for it yourself.

It's a good idea to see what telecare systems are available and which are best suited to the needs of the person you're looking after. There are telecare demonstrator sites you can visit to see the systems in operation. 

Telecare is different from a personal alarm system as it doesn't require the person you're looking after or anyone else to trigger the alarm (see Alarms, above).

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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Rob Finch said on 24 September 2009

Unfortunately we can't post a reply to your personal circumstances here, but please do call the Carers Direct helpline on 0808 802 0202 or email CarersDirect@nhschoices.nhs.uk.

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Madnanny said on 23 July 2009

Was very interested to read that essential equipment, as assessed by occupational therapist, is provided free of charge. My elderly father-in-law (in Wandsworth borough) was not given this option, but was given a list of items to buy privately. It cost him several hundreds of pounds and has left him with large debts. What can we do now to reclaim the money spent? I look forward to your reply.

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Page last reviewed: 11/12/2013

Next review due: 11/12/2015

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Services near you

Looking beyond the standard wheelchair

Nikki and Robby both lead active lives and their wheelchairs need to accommodate that. This video will show you what types of wheelchairs are available if you do not wish to take on a standard NHS wheelchair. Note: the NHS may be able to provide a wheelchair free of charge. The type of wheelchairs available depends on your needs and you'll have to go through an assessment.

Media last reviewed: 15/05/2013

Next review due: 15/05/2015